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Jimmie Johnson wants to drive in IndyCar race on July 4 at Indianapolis

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NASCAR and IndyCar might have found the next driver ready to do “The Double” – with a twist.

Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a Friday interview (video coming soon) that he will take a “very hard look” at racing in the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course July 4. As part of IndyCar’s revamped schedule, the race was moved from May 9 and will take place directly before the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The seven-time Cup Series champion will be in town to race the Brickyard 400 the following day.

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Cup driver free agency scorecard: Ryan Blaney off the market at Penske

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The signing of Ryan Blaney to a multiyear extension with Team Penske removes a big name from the list of potential NASCAR free agents after the 2020 Cup season.

But there still are at least a half-dozen winners in the Cup Series whose deals are set to expire before next year.

With Hendrick Motorsports needing to fill the No. 48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, there still could be significant movement in the driver lineup of NASCAR’s premier series for the 2021 season.

Blaney becomes the second winning driver to sign an extension in the past few months. Kevin Harvick, whose deal had run through 2021, re-signed with Stewart-Haas Racing through 2023.

With Blaney’s name now off the list, here are drivers who are in the last year of their contracts:

Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske

Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing

Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing

Aric Almirola, No. 10 Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing

Ty Dillon, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing

Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet, Richard Petty Motorsports

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford, GoFas Racing

Ryan Blaney signs multiyear extension to stay at Team Penske

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Scratch Ryan Blaney‘s name off the long list of potential free agents in the NASCAR Cup Series after this season.

Team Penske announced a multiyear extension with the No. 12 Ford driver Friday morning that “will keep him an integral part of the organization for years to come.”

Blaney is leading the points after three races of his fourth full season in Cup. He was in position to win at Daytona, Las Vegas and Fontana.

Earlier this season, Blaney, 26, said he was “tired of being at the bottom of the totem pole at Penske” while talking about the team’s personnel shake-up this season. Penske swapped crew chiefs for its trio of Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and paired Blaney with Todd Gordon, formerly with Logano.

The list of drivers in contract years still includes Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman, who won Sunday at Fontana.

Blaney said in a press conference Friday at Phoenix Raceway that he and Team Penske began working on the extension in the offseason and that he didn’t talk to any other teams.

“Even though we pretty much had a full year left on our deal before my current one was up, I was really happy with where I was at,” Blaney said. “I love the people I’m around, I love working with all the teams. … I feel like I owe so much to Roger for what he’s done for me. I just didn’t really see myself right now anywhere else. Yeah, there’s a couple doors open, a couple seats open with other teams, but I didn’t talk to any other teams. If I was approached by another team I don’t know if I’d even want to talk to them because I was so happy where I was at. I’m so loyal to Roger. My mindset was if they’ll have me back, I’d love to be back. It was great that both of our minds set on that.”

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (March 6, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that it has signed Ryan Blaney to a multiyear extension, which will keep him an integral part of the organization for years to come.  The current NASCAR Cup Series points leader and driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang has been a member of Team Penske since 2012. During that time, he has earned three Cup Series victories and qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs in each of his three full-time seasons in the Cup Series.

“Ryan is a true talent with a long runway ahead of him and we are excited to have him as a part of the future of Team Penske,” said Roger Penske. “Since joining our team, Ryan has developed into a championship caliber driver and his personality and engagement with fans has made him a terrific ambassador for NASCAR.  In addition, Ryan has done a great job of working with our partners to support their activation and investment throughout each year. I am looking forward to even more success together.”

One of NASCAR’s rising stars, Blaney first joined Team Penske as a talented 18-year-old, competing in select NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) races for the team. He earned his first victory for Team Penske with an NXS win at Kentucky in 2013.  He then captured his first Cup Series victory driving for the Wood Brothers in 2017 at Pocono Raceway before joining Team Penske as a full-time Cup Series competitor in 2018.  The now 26-year-old Blaney has generated a combined nine wins and seven poles since joining the organization in 2012.

“I’ve always said, it’s been a lifelong dream to be able to drive a racecar for Roger Penske,” said Blaney. “I am proud of what we have accomplished with the No. 12 Team Penske Ford and our ability to represent great brands like Menards, Advance Auto Parts, DEX Imaging and BODYARMOR. It’s really exciting to know I will continue to drive for this organization in 2021 and beyond. I am fortunate to be surrounded by extremely talented people throughout the organization and have no doubt we will continue to compete for wins and championships well into the future.”

Through the first three races of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Blaney leads the Cup Series point standings and has found himself in contention to be in a position to win in each event – which included a second-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.  He also leads the series with a 6.3-average running position.

 

‘This is like a miracle’: Ryan Newman hangs with Cup drivers in Phoenix

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Three of the NASCAR drivers involved in the terrifying crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 were reunited under much better circumstances Thursday.

With a “Look who I found” message, a grinning Corey LaJoie posted a photo to Twitter alongside a smiling Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

It was part of a group outing at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, for several Ford drivers Thursday that included Joey Logano. The 2018 series champion told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that the experience of spending time with Newman for 90 minutes was “like a miracle.”

Said Logano: “You look at that crash and it’s just like, ‘How is he even OK? He’s walking, he’s talking like nothing happened.’ He says his memory’s not foggy. Everything is there. It’s insane.

“Couldn’t be more happy for him and his family about that situation. I don’t believe in luck, but I believe in God and I believe that God really got involved with that one. …

“(Newman) said when he was flying out here, there was a little turbulence on the airplane and he was like, ‘This is nothing, don’t you worry about this. I’ve been through way worse.'”

Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race is at nearby Phoenix Raceway. It’ll be the third race Newman misses since being injured in the Feb. 17 crash at Daytona International Speedway.

A Roush Fenway spokesman told NBCSports.com that Newman would be at Phoenix Raceway this weekend in support of the team. He isn’t scheduled to do interviews. Roush already had announced Ross Chastain, who has filled in for Newman the past two races, as the No. 6 Ford driver at Phoenix.

The drivers were at Sun Devil Stadium on behalf of Ford Performance to take part in a punt, kick and pass competition.

“Ryan Newman showed up,” Logano said. “We all thought that was the coolest thing. We talked to Ryan, I don’t know, an hour-and-a-half or so, just about his whole experience and everything that’s been going on, how he’s doing.

“Boy, he’s still Ryan Newman, nothing changed. Don’t worry about that. It’s a lot of fun to see him. It’s kind of weird, we’re all sitting there and I told him, ‘This is like a miracle, you sitting here right now. How is that even possible?’ He goes, ‘You know, if you saw the car you’d be even more amazed.’

“He recognizes the miracle that it is. Just crazy.”

Newman has yet to race since being injured in the Daytona crash, which started after a bump from Blaney’s No. 12 Ford sent his No. 6 careening into the outside wall. After going airborne, Newman’s car was hit at full speed by LaJoie’s No. 32 Ford.

Newman spent less than 48 hours at Halifax Medical Center before being released. He since has visited the Roush Fenway Racing shop, posted on social media and released a statement through the team (in which he vowed to race again).

Blaney talked to Newman the Wednesday night he left the hospital, and LaJoie said he had texted with Newman the same night.

NASCAR America: Kyle Petty on how much driver friendships changed

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Though the driver motorhome lot and social media have provided new windows into collegiality in the Cup Series, driver fraternization isn’t a 21st century phenomenon in NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt and Neil Bonnett were close friends while racing each other, and among many in the Baby Boom generation who developed strong bonds in stock cars (Ernie Irvan and Mark Martin are another example).

NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty, who raced in that era, believes there’s an important distinction between how drivers hung out then vs. now.

“Neil and Earnhardt were only friends when Neil was on the back side of his career and driving lesser cars,” Petty said on the latest episode of NASCAR America Splash & Go (video above). “There’s tons of ‘A’ drivers that would go to dinner with ‘C’ drivers. But not a lot of ‘A’ drivers went to dinner together. If I’m your competitor, no. But if I know I can beat you, yeah, we’ll be friends, dude. Because I’m beating you every week.

MORE: Hamlin and Larson discuss Fontana incident and aftermath

“So it’s a totally different mindset (now). I didn’t experience this. I know it probably happens in other sports, but I still believe if we’re friends and it comes down to the last lap of the race, I’m not going to drive you as hard, (and) you might not drive me as hard. You just don’t put it all out there.”

Driver relationships and how they impact NASCAR have been an ongoing topic. Analyst Steve Letarte, who had some strong opinions with Petty on Tuesday’s NASCAR America, called out prerace socializing as a problem three years ago in a NASCAR on NBC Podcast appearance.

But the controversy around how Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson interacted on and off the track (and how team owner Chip Ganassi reacted to it) has raised the issue again. Hamlin, Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are sharing a house this week in the Phoenix area and have posted about playing golf together and joking about the incident in which Larson’s car was damaged by Hamlin’s in the race Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

Petty said it’s a problem when friendships become too tight between elite drivers such as Hamlin, the two-time defending Daytona 500 winner, and Larson, who is at the top of this year’s class of impending of free agents.

“If this was (Hamlin or Larson) and a guy who’s consistently 28th or 29th, that’s OK,” Petty said. “They’re not competitors.

“Let me put to you this way: Joey Logano, nobody likes him, doesn’t have friends. What’s he do, though? Wins races and championships. Kyle Busch, you see him out? Kevin Harvick is a good example of someone who doesn’t hang with a lot of people. Jimmie Johnson has always been a loner and he and his wife, that’s their drumbeat. So the guys who come along, ‘Yeah, I’ll be nice and cordial to you, but I’m going to slit your throat.’ That’s the mental attitude you have to have.”

Petty also corrected a perception that he was close with Davey Allison and others he raced against.

“Davey and I grew up together but weren’t best friends,” Petty said. “We were competitors. I was never really close to anybody, and I got that from my dad. He was not close with anybody because he grew up in a time when drivers perished in race cars and no one got close to each other. Totally different.”